In its 100-year history, Croke Park has hosted just three American football games.
It’s no coincidence that two coaches with close ties and who share an Irish heritage will take their teams across the Atlantic Ocean to contest the fourth such game.
Croke Park, the Gaelic Athletic Association and Penn State Director of Athletics Dave Joyner announced Sunday that Penn State — led by Bill O’Brien — and the University of Central Florida — coached by O’Brien’s former mentor George O’Leary — will play in the Croke Park Classic on Aug. 30, 2014. It will mark the season opener for both teams. The Orlando Sentinel first reported the game last Tuesday.
Kickoff time is set for 1:30 in Dublin — 8:30 a.m. eastern time.
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“Our players and coaches are so excited to go to Ireland and play a college football game in such a historic and outstanding venue,” O’Brien said in a press release. “I have great respect for Coach O’Leary and his team and playing UCF in Ireland will be a fantastic experience for all the players, coaches and fans.”
Joyner and O’Leary announced plans for the game on the pitch during halftime of the Leinster Senior Football Championship game between Dublin and Meath.
“Our visit this weekend has only reinforced our reasons for wanting to come and play in Dublin,” Joyner said in the release. “We’ve not only grown our appreciation for the games so entrenched in the history and traditions here in Ireland, but have also confirmed that, because of the Irish people and their hospitality, Penn State fans are going to love their time here in late summer of 2014.”
Croke Park last hosted an American Football game in 1997 when the Pittsburgh Steelers played the Chicago Bears in the American Bowl, a preseason game the Steelers won 30-17. Notre Dame and Navy were the lone two college teams to play one another in Croke Park. Then, the Irish beat the Midshipmen 54-27.
Notre Dame beat Navy 50-10 in Ireland in 2012 in a game played in Aviva Stadium before a crowd of 48,820. Croke Park will seat 69,000 fans for the Penn State-UCF game.
“This is a hugely significant event for Croke Park and Ireland,” GAA director general Páraic Duffy said in the release. “We in the GAA are looking forward to hosting a competitive sporting occasion. Irish people are renowned for their love of sport as evidenced by the thousands who attend our games throughout the year. I have no doubt that this game will be every bit as attractive.”
The Notre Dame-Navy game in 2012 was attractive enough to bring 35,000 U.S. visitors to Dublin, according to Ireland’s minister for Transport Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar. This will be the eighth American college football game in Ireland. Penn State will be the first Big Ten team to play internationally since 1993, when Michigan State and Navy met in Tokyo.
“The ‘Croke Park Classic’ will be every bit as important, and just as exciting, and both teams are guaranteed a warm welcome,” Varadkar said in the release. “It’s great news for sports fans, for the GAA and the wider economy. I congratulate everyone involved on making this possible.”
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien was a member of O’Leary’s staff at Georgia Tech from 1995 to 2001.
Penn State’s 2014 game with Temple, originally slated to be the season opener, will move to Nov. 15, which had been an open date.